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Another Voice: Adult education is the missing piece of the puzzle

By Danis Joyce Gehl

Parents, educators and community leaders agree that the current state of public education does not serve our children, families, communities or local economy well. We have collectively rolled up our sleeves to attempt to solve the puzzle of how to foster a school system with high graduation rates that produces graduates who are college or career ready.

We have poured tremendous public and private resources into technology and school buildings in order to offer 21st century instruction. Responding to long-standing evidence that families are critical to a successful journey from kindergarten to high school, our community has supported efforts to engage parents more deeply in school activities, offered workshops on at-home enrichment activities and encouraged parents to actively participate in local and state policy decisions on school choice, equitable funding and curricula.

These actions have moved us in the right direction; however, an important piece of the education reform puzzle has been overlooked – the education level of the responsible adults in students’ lives.

Access to education and training is essential for parents to be able to financially support their families and to create home environments that nurture children’s school success. Family income continues to be a leading indicator of educational attainment and student achievement. Economic instability produces multiple moves, inadequate health care and psychosocial stress on children.

Many parents do not have the high school diploma, training or postsecondary credentials necessary to move out of entry-level employment. Given this reality, educating the adults in children’s lives is critical in addressing obstacles that delay or stop children from achieving high school graduation and pressing on to college. This is why adult education is key to our community’s work to improve schools.

There are hopeful signs in Buffalo with the emergence of more holistic school reform approaches such as Say Yes Buffalo and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. However, adult education institutions and educators have been largely on the sidelines in school reform conversations and initiatives. It is time for us to be more actively in the game. Adult education and training helps parents gain necessary knowledge and skills.

Adult education institutions, especially those with a history of community partnerships, are uniquely positioned to work with schools, parents and reform efforts. Working together we can effectively address fractures in our education system by helping families strengthen their ability to contribute to their children’s educational success.

Danis Joyce Gehl, Ph.D., is an administrator and adjunct faculty member at the University at Buffalo.